Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 10/31/17

Google’s massive advertising business is getting even more massive, showing no signs of slowing down as it outpaces all rivals.

Can’t be great for all the other media companies launching branded subscription services to see Lionsgate parting ways with Comic-Con HQ, shutting that service down and transitioning to licensing the material elsewhere.

YouTube is building up its app offerings based on data showing how usage showing streaming to TVs is widespread behavior, so why not make that even easier?

Snapchat’s Sponsored Lens for “Stranger Things” season two is a whole environment people can experience, further making AR an everyday feature.

Jeez, it takes a lot of money to not only get someone to download an app in the first place but then to make a purchase through the app that’s so critical to the “freemium” model many rely on.

Facebook now says 126 million people saw ads that were part of Russia’s plans to destabilize the 2016 elections, but is downplaying the impact of that exposure. And yes, that’s exactly the opposite of the message it sends to any businesses considering buying ads on the platform.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Demand For Longer Content Should Fuel On-Domain Publishing

Nieman Lab summarizes two different studies that come to roughly the same conclusion: People want longer, weightier content.

In particular, a study from Parse.ly has found roughly half of website visitors stick around for between one and five minutes. Though much of the rest of the traffic lasts less than a minute, it excludes the quick exits that often result from inadvertent clicks. Only a handful of visits last more than five minutes. Over 40% of visitors are what are termed “long stays,” lasting more than 60 seconds.

That’s 60 seconds you have to make your case to the visitor. A whole minute is an eternity in internet time and should encourage any company or publisher who’s been pivoting to a distributed content strategy – one that doesn’t include an owned “hub” – to reconsider their tactics.

A minute gives you the opportunity to make the case for further reading.

A minute gives you the opportunity to make a convincing sales pitch.

A minute gives you the opportunity to develop some brand loyalty.

Yes, there are also opportunities to get people to sign up for an email newsletter or otherwise opt-in for some additional and repeated messaging. It’s just those opportunities should not be seized at the expense of the user experience. Don’t interrupt what the *visitor* wants to do now with what *you* want them to do.

That’s a minute they’re not spending elsewhere. If you have adopted a wholly-distributed content model, publishing and engaging on all sorts of other platforms and networks, you’re missing out on the opportunities that present themselves on owned websites. There’s the potential to do so much more and own more of the visitor experience as opposed to being part of a larger stream of updates and information flow that it’s seen as disposable.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Netflix’s After Show Creates Stickiness

I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I read the news Netflix was getting in on the after-show trend and launching a new show discussing its breakout success “Stranger Things.” Netflix – and streaming in general – is so focused on binge-watching that I wondered how this sort of “timely” material might work, particularly if you’re devoting an entire weekend or whatever to plowing through the whole thing. What sort of value, I wondered, would that time-sensitive material

Then I put it into a different context and it all made sense. It’s about recommended viewing.

Specifically, I remembered this story from earlier this year about how Netflix was using “The Defenders” to test how people respond to and act on the various recommendations that are shown when you’re selecting something to watch or when what you’ve watched has finished. The company has all sorts of data on what you watched previously and what you’ve watched next, what paths you’ve taken to the various movies and shows it offers. It’s constantly making adjustments based on that data.

It also has its own corporate interests to look after. That’s why when you scan the “Recently Released” and “Recommendations For You” sections you’re increasingly likely to find a handful of Netflix originals offered for you to choose from.

While Netflix, according to the news, will encourage viewers to wait on the after-show until they watch the whole season, I think there’s the potential for a new model that increases stickiness while catering to individual tastes. Consider this:

Finish watching Episode 1 of the show’s second season and you might be offered two options for what to watch next: You can either continue to Episode 2 or check out Episode 1’s after-show.

If you choose Episode 2 and then keep going into Episode 3, the system may figure out that you like to binge so it will just keep feeding you the next episode as a recommendation, with the after-show popping up after you’ve finished the whole thing.

If you choose the Episode 1 after-show then once it’s done you might be asked if you want to watch Episode 2 next or the Episode 2 after-show, depending on your viewing history.

Basically, it will keep feeding you recommendations that keep you within the ecosystem of Netflix original content, allowing you to design the experience that best matches your viewing preferences.

I understand why Netflix is warning viewers away from the after-show at first. It doesn’t want people to be spoiled for future episodes and so on. That’s not how the rest of the ever-expanding number of after-shows work, though, and it certainly doesn’t take advantage of the unique place Netflix occupies. If it was really that concerned about preserving the viewer experience, it could have waited and released the conversational format after a decent amount of time had passed.

Netflix should know better than anyone there’s data in them thar hills that can be mined to gain even more insights into how people watch shows and movies and what prompts them to do so. Reformatting the after-show to make sure it doesn’t tip any hands for future plot points is what happens on other similar shows and would make them ready for viewing immediately as part of a whole package.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Last Week on Cinematic Slant

Novitiate – Marketing Recap: I like a lot of things about the campaign. This could easily have been sold as a youngs-vs-olds story, but that’s thankfully not the angle taken.

Suburbicon – Marketing Recap: There’s a comic touch to some of the material on display but it’s all tinged with a cynical perspective that may turn off some audiences. What’s being sold here looks rough and not exactly uplifting.

Don’t Think Twice (After the Campaign Movie Review): For me the story itself, which sees the slow disintegration of the group as opportunities are seized and passed on in one form or another by all the characters, was less interesting than these more philosophical, historical elements.

The Square – Marketing Recap: The entire campaign has been designed to reinforce that conversation and keep the focus on the provocative nature of the story. The lack of easy jumping on point is a feature, not a bug.

Drinking Buddies – Flashback Marketing: All that’s pretty accurate to the movie being sold. If anything, Wilde’s significant comedic sensibilities are underplayed in the campaign. Johnson and Kendrick are more of the focus since they were probably the hottest names at the moment.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 10/27/17

The Content Marketing Institute is out with a new study that takes a look at the state of the industry. Basically people are feeling things are working better than they have in the past and it’s all going quite nicely, thank you very much.

Apple is taking a conservative, at least in terms of subject matter, approach to producing original content, focusing on all-ages material as opposed to the edgy “peak TV” material that other distributors have created.

Patreon has released a set of tools and apps that integrate with other platforms to make fundraising and ongoing support from fans even easier.

30,000 businesses have reportedly begun using Workplace, the inter-office messaging tool from Facebook that’s meant to go up against Slack and other offerings.

Not that shocking to find that premium placement in the “featured” section of Apple’s App Store leads to increased attention and installations.

GoFundMe has launched a content creation studio to produce stories based on the heartwarming and inspirational campaigns run on the site. Similarly, GroupOn has launched a campaign using retailer success stories to attract more interest.

Lots of interesting stuff in Twitter’s latest quarterly report, including revised user numbers based on an error in previous calculations and the expectation it will be turning a profit later this year.

Spotify has decided original video productions just aren’t working and has canceled them en masse while it reimagines and reinvents the whole concept.

Speaking of which, Buzzfeed management appears to have been so mad it got scooped on the Harvey Weinstein news it’s fired a handful of entertainment editors as it rejiggers processes.

Both Instagram and Facebook have introduced Halloween-themed face filters and other toys.

Medium opened up its wallet of investment money to help attract some big name publishers to its newly-open Publisher program, putting select stories behind a paywall.

The latest social app to jump on the “and friends” broadcast trend is Anchor, which now lets you easily add people to episodes you’re recording.

Facebook joins Twitter in announcing increased transparency into advertising buys, particularly those involving politics. The smell of pending federal regulation must be getting strong in Silicon Valley.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Facebook’s New Guidelines Offer No Help For Publishers

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach. The one that worries whether what you’re about to post will work on Facebook and achieve some level of decent organic reach. Worse, maybe you’ve overlooked something and this is the one that will have your page flagged for inappropriate content.

Facebook hasn’t made this any easier over the years as it has shifted and changed guidance as to what works and doesn’t within the News Feed. Following along with all the updates to what’s given more or less weight can be maddening. Concerns were amplified recently as reports emerged Facebook was testing moving all brand page posts outside the News Feed unless they paid to include them among the family and friends’ updates that would now take priority.

It’s likely those reports helped move along the recent release of a Publisher Guidelines repository that brands can reference when they’re evaluating their Facebook efforts.

Three Core Principles

The guidelines get into what publishers shouldn’t do but are framed within three basic principles of what content should be. Each one has a key sentence that shows just how latitude Facebook is giving itself and how little it understands – or at least acknowledges – the massive role it plays in the molding of the public discourse.

Meaningful and Informative: We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about, but we are in the business of connecting people with the stories they find most meaningful.

Right off the bat, this doesn’t pass the laugh test. “Picking which issues the world should read about,” in addition to being poorly written, is accurate enough to be considered Facebook’s mission statement. It does so through not only the application an algorithm that considers thousands of signals to determine which stories are shown to the user but also the foundational selection of what those signals are and will be.

Accurate and Authentic: People tell us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most.

Wait, which is it? Are you saying people want informative stories or the ones that hit them right in the feels? Because if something is inauthentic and spammy I’m guessing it’s not super-informative. And if it’s super-informative it probably isn’t all that emotional. While I can’t believe we, as a society, are openly discussing what constitutes “truth” and “fact,” it remains that facts do exist and are clearly distinguishable from untruths. And unfortunately, because of other media factors in the current world, what resonates most deeply isn’t always what’s most truthful.

Represents Safe, Respectful Behavior: Sometimes we will allow content if newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest even if it might otherwise violate our standards.

But you just said you weren’t in the business of picking which stories people should read? You also said you were looking for stories that resonated with people? The minute you make an editorial judgment, any editorial judgment, you are imposing your worldview and opinions on the audience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means Facebook bears a great measure of the responsibility for what’s shown. Not only that, but the stories that are both informative and resonating are those that are uncomfortable to discuss.

Guidance For Publishers

To ensure compliance with these guidelines, and with the various problems with each category in mind, publishers are then expected to adhere to the following directional ideal.

Be informative, but in a way that’s also emotional and “authentic” while not sharing anything that shouldn’t be discussed in the church narthex.

That’s…tough. As much as Facebook wants to put this on publishers and tell them they need to understand what their audience is reacting to, getting to the audience in the first place is seemingly akin to landing on the moon. Timing, tone, content and other factors have to line up just right for someone to even see the story organically, without throwing promotional dollars at Facebook to achieve the reach that would have possible five years ago without breaking a sweat.

No transparency is offered as to how Facebook makes all these determinations and no responsibility is taken for having done so. That’s disturbing for a platform 68% of American internet users turn to for news. If a television network reached 68% of the American public it would be under such scrutiny it could barely operate.

More than that, the guidance offered here could change at any moment based not on what’s best for the online populace but for Facebook’s financial health and position in the marketplace.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Call It. How It Feels Does

It used to be called “the groove” or “the zone.”

Coming from a family full of gearheads and car enthusiasts we used the phrase “running on all eight cylinders.”

They all mean the same thing: That feeling that comes when you just can’t do any wrong. Hours pass in the blink of an eye while you’re working on something you’re deeply passionate about or interested in.

For me, running on all eight cylinders means there’s nothing that can stop me. The words (it’s usually when I’m writing) are flowing like water from a spring as the winter snowpack melts. It’s organic and meaningful. Whatever time I have is too short.

Recently I’ve encountered a number of sources that refer to it as “the flow” or simply “flow.” The key to productivity, to self-actualization, is finding flow. It is our optimal functional state. We’re more efficient and passionate, bringing all our attention and skills to bear on something important.

If you do even a small bit of searching or subscribe to entrepreneurial or productivity news sites for a short while you’ll encounter no end of tips and advice on how to get into the flow or maintain the flow while working. As with most tips and advice, there’s some good stuff in there, but your mileage may vary.

You Do You

If creating an environment of complete silence and tranquility works, great. I work better with Rush or Van Halen or Bob Dylan or Huey Lewis & The News playing at a wholly unhealthy volume.

If turning off the internet connection to minimize distractions works, great. Jumping over to Twitter every now and again actually helps take my mind off something I might be stuck on and free up new ideas.

If scheduled breaks where you turn away completely works, great. I prefer to just keep going and rest when the day is done and I’ve accomplished as much as possible.

You Might Not Know What Works

For years I didn’t know what the right combination of activities, stimuli and other factors was. When I felt it, I felt it. But I couldn’t put my finger on how to recreate it. Eventually it came together when I realized there was no magic formula.

Flow is art, not science in my experience. One day I’m running on all eight when I’ve got The Grateful Dead going and I’m working down a list of writing projects and topics. The next it’s when I’m listening to St. Vincent and organizing files on a hard drive.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. It doesn’t matter how you get there. What matters is that you feel it. Find your groove. Find your flow. Fire up all eight cylinders. Make it happen.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The Vast Beauty of The Blank Page

Yes, there are many terrifying things about the blank page that faces writers every day. It’s humbling to think that it’s your responsibility – to readers, clients and others, even yourself – to fill that void.

I’m occasionally reminded of Donald Sutherland’s line in Backdraft. While needling William Baldwin’s character, who’s looking for answers as to who’s been setting a string of fires, Sutherland’s imprisoned arsonist says “It looked at you, didn’t it?” Fire is a living thing he refers to as “the animal” repeatedly. It’s something to be let loose, a beautiful beast that destroys everything.

The blank page is sometimes that kind of terrible creature, threatening to engulf me.

Other times the stark whiteness of a blank page, either digital or physical, is beautiful. It’s a flat, endless sea of snow and ice, nothing there except for the potential for more. It’s calming and soothing, inviting exploration and adventure that defies description. You can walk for miles and never find the end.

Even in that apparent vacuum, there’s life. If you’re not driven insane by the intimidating emptiness devoid of oases, you step out and are rewarded by encountering the animals who have adapted to life there and delighted by the fauna uniquely suited to survive such harsh conditions.

Those are the days when it all works. When the words come easily and when, given the option, I could write for hours unending and be not only happy but proud of the results. I’m pushed on by the promise of finding more of those hidden treasures.

There’s beauty in unbroken blankness. It’s the writer’s job to discover it and share it with others.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Draft 3

It’s done.

Draft 3 of the first long-form story I’ve written in 20 years is finished.

I started this draft back in August, taking the hand-written second draft and retyping it, editing as I went and undoubtedly improving many aspects of the story.

It came in at a smidge over 20,000 words, which I know qualifies it more as a novella than an actual novel. That’s fine.

In the last four months I’ve been reading lots of tips for writing your first novel. That’s been educational. I’m almost glad I didn’t do all that before starting.

Now comes the hard part: Seeing if it interests anyone. Query letters, agent searches and all that. Research into self-publishing options.

To date no one has read it. The only opinion I have to go on is my own.

I have a complete story that I’m pretty happy with, as much as any creator is ever happy. I could go on revising and editing and will likely do a bit of that.

But I want it to be read and so will be working out the best and most realistic option for release.

Updates to come.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

It’s Essential To Find Brand Voice

Here’s the key graf in this story (via FashionRedef) about how fashion brands have begun addressing their customers as peers instead of experts or cold, soulless corporations.

For sustainable direct-to-consumer brand Reformation, “hyper-growth” was also kick-started with a pithy newsletter in March 2013, says the company’s founder, Yael Aflalo. “We wrote about Coachella and the caption was: ‘It’s not that important but it kinda is.’ All my friends rung me to say how cute it was.” It wasn’t just cute; it was instantly profitable. Sales jumped from $18,000 in February (pre-newsletter) to $175,000 in March. Millennial-friendly Instagram captions and product descriptions (Aflalo describes the tone as a SoCal-esque “urgh, but yeah”) are part of Reformation’s USP. “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2”, puns their Instagram bio, where the brand has 818,00 followers.

What the story shows is how vitally important it is for brands to find a voice that truly connects with its customers. The “BFF Marketing” label that’s affixed to these particular examples shows that sort of tone and connection that has worked with these companies and indicates the role that worked for them. In this case they adopted the persona of the “BFF” of the women they were trying to reach and spoke to them in that language, with that cadence and using that sort of terminology.

Shown here are the results of adjustments to that voice that have worked out well for the brands mentioned. Unseen is the rigor that often goes into making those adjustments.

Brand “voice” is something that is vitally important and not just changed on a whim, at least not in most cases. Usually it takes a massive amounts of rigor and research before all the various stakeholders will sign off on adjustments to the approach taken with marketing copy.

I’ve gone through this process a few times in my career. Here are some of the factors I had to include when making the case to change what had been dry marketing copy into something more interesting and engaging for the audience.

Analyze the Audience

If you want to fit in with the audience, you have to know how they’re talking, both about you specifically and the general topics in your industry. What sorts of conversations are they having? Are they having fun or are they more serious? Don’t limit your research to civilians and individuals, but also take a look at how industry trade pubs and other news sites are sharing updates. See if you can find what’s working well for them and pick out the elements you can incorporate and which will work for you.

Define the Action

What I’ve found is that most marketing copy that doesn’t result from a defined style guide has almost no purpose. There’s no clearly defined call to action. The assumption seems to be that sharing the update, whatever it is, is sufficient and should light the world on fire. We know that’s not true, so make sure that adjustments in voice are made that include clear next steps for the audience to take. Interestingly, I’ve found these CTAs are easier to include in loose, informal copy than in the stiff marketing copy I’ve often inherited from other managers.

Set Boundaries

When I was working on a client project to redefine the social media voice for the brand, my counterpart in-house told me to present my recommendations in three ways: Minor adjustment, full-throated changes and ZOMG. Or something like that, but you get the point. He wanted to see what a small tweak looked like, what a moderate but still noticeable change would be and then what happened if I really cut loose. In this case we wound up going not quite all the way to 11 but definitely a 9.5. Knowing where the guardrail was helped us formalize that in the style guide and kept everyone honest, as well as giving him the supporting material he needed to show others what “too far” really looked like.

Remember the Big Picture

My colleague Dave Coustan introduced me to the following phrase: “Voice is cumulative.” What that means is that you’re never going to get the entirety of your voice attributes in one tweet, one blog post or any other single example. Instead, that picture only becomes clear when you step back and view several updates. Or even a whole month of them. If you have eight key elements to your brand voice, each individual one is probably only going to include three or four of them. Update A has Elements 2,4,5 and 8. Update B might have 2,3,7. Update C has 1,3,4 and 7. Taken as a whole, people will get the message.

It Helps To Have a Native

I’ve been lucky enough to be interested in the industries and products some of my clients have operated in and sold. That’s helped me write in the voice of the fan, because I am one. In other cases, I’ve done the research necessary to know how that audience and fanbase speaks and what they’re interested in to present an authentic message (not faking this is a whole other topic). It can be hard for companies to do this as they may not have this kind of genuine enthusiasm internally and it can’t be found in their agency partners. If there’s a case for working with freelance copywriters it’s here, as doing so allows companies to cast a broader net and find someone who brings that sense of excitement to the copy they’re creating.

Establish Measurement

So you’re starting at 3. Cool. You know that. But are you prepared to measure the impact of the voice experimentation you’re about to engage in? What’s the start date for the change? What metrics are you using to gauge success or failure? All of these are essential to know whether what you’re doing is working. The BoF story above shares some stories about increased engagement, a spike in sales and more. There’s no universal right answer here, just know what you’re hoping to get out of this work and be prepared to see if that actually happens.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.